Uncovering Public Info on Private Companies - Chris Roush (Kentucky)

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Chris Roush, business journalism professor at University of North Carolina, presents “Uncovering Public Information on Private Companies” during the free Reynolds Center workshop, “Uncovering the Best Local Business Stories,” in Lexington, Ky.

The daylong workshop covered tips on how to find good stories in the business of government, how to cover economic-development agencies at the state and local levels, and how to find public information on private companies.

Presenters also discussed how to find stories in small business and publicly available databases, and how to localize national and international stories for your audience.

This free training was specifically geared toward community journalists and generalists on tight budgets and small staffs. Another workshop by the same name was later held in Fort Worth.

For more information about free training for business journalists, please visit businessjournalism.org.

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Uncovering Public Info on Private Companies - Chris Roush (Kentucky)

  1. 1. Uncovering public information on private companies April 13, 2012 Chris Roush croush@email.unc.edu
  2. 2. Public vs. Private•  Business reporters spend a lot of time writing stories about publicly traded companies who file documents with the SEC•  Makes it easier to cover business, because lots of information is disclosed.•  Does it make reporters lazy? In some cases, I would argue yes.
  3. 3. Private companies•  Small companies are the backbone of local economies.•  22.9 million, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.•  Small businesses provide 75 percent of the net new jobs added to the economy, and represent 99.7 percent of all employers.•  More than half of the private work force is employed by a small business, which accounted for 52 percent of the private sector output.
  4. 4. Private companies•  Can sometimes be harder to find information about private companies.•  If you look hard enough though, you’ll find what you’re looking for.•  Many private companies will disclose the information somewhere, to someone.
  5. 5. Private companies•  Don’t be afraid to ask.•  When someone tells you no, keep digging.
  6. 6. Basic places to look
  7. 7. The beauty of checking up•  A developer came to Nashville and proposed building an amusement park.•  Annie Johnson of the Nashville Business Journal looked into his background.•  She found a trail of unpaid bills, bounced checks, evictions, troubled business associates and unfulfilled plans.•  She got to write sentences like this: “In a 2006 letter related to the purchase of the San Diego property, Peterson said he received a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University. (Harvard’s MBA Registrar has no record that Peterson attended the school.)”
  8. 8. Where to begin: State records•  The Secretary of State’s office has records on every business incorporated in Kentucky.•  https://app.sos.ky.gov/ftsearch/•  Here you can search by company name, current officer or by registered agent.
  9. 9. What this will show you•  Incorporation records give you a listing of a business’ officers, or executives.•  It will also give you a mailing address and a phone number.•  Has its license expired? If it has, that could be a sign of financial trouble.
  10. 10. Secretary of State records•  You can also search Department of Secretary of State records to get similar information for other operations.•  These include nonprofit entities, limited liability corporations such as law firms and limited partnerships.
  11. 11. Occupational Licensing Boards•  There are regulatory boards that govern dozens of industries in Kentucky.•  They range from athletic trainers to teachers.•  These boards have websites where you can also find information about businesses in these industries.•  http://kentucky.gov/ business/pages/ licensingandpermits.aspx
  12. 12. Licensing board examples•  In April, the Monterey County Weekly paper in California wrote about how the state Contractors State License Board was finding and fining unlicensed contractors in the county.•  On the same day, across the country in Massachusetts, the Falls River Herald wrote about the local liquor licensing board approving two new restaurants.
  13. 13. Trade Associations•  Most private and small companies also belong to trade associations. Could be National Federation of Independent Business.•  These associations may be able to tell you industry- wide figures for the state that put the industry in context.•  They are also valuable to relay legislative issues concerning these companies.•  http://dir.yahoo.com/Regional/U_S__States/Kentucky/ Business_and_Economy/ includes Kentucky Farm Bureau, Kentucky Bankers Association and Kentucky Hospital Association.
  14. 14. The WARN Act•  Employers who are laying off or firing workers are required to disclose such moves 60 days before they do it.•  This is a document filed with the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training.•  http://oet.ky.gov/rresponse/rapidresponse.htm•  Regularly check for WARN Act filings.
  15. 15. The WARN Act•  An employer must give notice if a plant will be shut down, and the shutdown will result in an employment loss for 50 or more employees during any 30-day period.•  An employer must give notice if there is to be a mass layoff which does not result from a plant closing, but which will result in an employment loss at the site during any 30-day period for 500 or more employees, or for 50-499 employees if they make up at least 33 percent of the employers active workforce.
  16. 16. Safety and Health •  Worker complaints about unsafe or unhealthy working conditions are made in writing to the Occupational Safety and Health Division. •  The division conducts investigations of complaints made by workers, investigations of work-related accidents and deaths, inspections of randomly picked firms, and follow- up inspections of firms previously cited for OSHA violations.
  17. 17. Workplace injuries•  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspects workplace deaths and injuries: http://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/ establishment.html•  This site allows you to look at accident- investigation reports and inspection reports for companies by industry.•  Found five reports for University of Kentucky. Last one was last year, for a violation of fungus and mold at a Lexington health-care facility.
  18. 18. Workplace injuries•  The Fort Myers News-Press reported in April about an OSHA investigation into the drowning of a worker at a country club.•  The Toledo Blade reported in April that a construction company in Ohio was fined $26,100 for failing to prevent worker- safety hazards.
  19. 19. Bankruptcy court•  Eastern District: http://www.kyeb.uscourts.gov/•  Western District: http://www.kywb.uscourts.gov/fpweb/ index.htm•  Chapter 11 filings and court dockets online.•  Companies file for bankruptcy court protection when they can no longer pay their bills.•  Chapter 11 filing will reorganize debt; Chapter 7 is liquidation.
  20. 20. My favorites
  21. 21. UCC Records•  Who owes money to whom, and how much?•  These documents are available through the Secretary of State’s office in Kentucky.•  https://app.sos.ky.gov/ftucc/%28S %28q55vitrgifkzfba424ja0jra%29%29/ search.aspx
  22. 22. UCC Records•  A UCC filing occurs when one business sells something to another business on credit. The business that sold the tractor to the farmer, for example, filed a UCC form showing that the tractor is collateral for the loan.•  If the business that purchased the tractor fails to pay the loan, the other business can repossess the tractor. UCC forms can show whether a business is borrowing a lot of money to make purchases.•  This could be a sign that the company plans to expand its operations.
  23. 23. UCC Records•  When the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigated a church that wanted to redevelop a shopping center, it looked at its UCC filings and discovered that banks and other lenders had given it seven loans despite the fact that it had fallen behind in paying its taxes and other debts.•  When USA Today researched former WorldCom leader Bernie Ebbers, it pored through UCC filings around the country to get a detailed list of everything he’d invested in or purchased in the past decade. That helped show the reader where the money he’d made from WorldCom had gone.
  24. 24. Nonprofit organizations•  Even though they’re not in operation to make money, you can still find out financial information.•  www.guidestar.org is a website with information about nonprofit organizations across the country.•  Found the financial information for 2,482 nonprofits in Lexington on this site. Some of them look like businesses to me.
  25. 25. Kentucky nonprofits•  YMCA of Central Kentucky had $10 million in revenue and $11.3 million in expenses.•  Lexington Christian Academy had revenue of $12.2 million and expenses of $12.6 million.•  Lexington Country Club had revenue of $4 million and expenses of $4.5 million.
  26. 26. Nonprofit organizations•  Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service.•  Form 990 is required to be filed by tax-exempt organizations with more than $100,000 in annual receipts or total assets of at least $250,000. Form 990-EZ must be filed by smaller organizations, with at least $25,000 in annual receipts and total assets of less than $250,000.•  The forms are public documents that reveal income, expenses, assets and liabilities; expenditures by program category; program accomplishments; names of officers, directors and key employees; compensation paid to officers, directors and key employees.•  Most religious organizations are not required to file Form 990.
  27. 27. Small Business Administration•  Federal agency created to help small business owners.•  Virtually every small business is private.•  Millions of companies registered with SBA to receive benefits or to qualify for contracts and business.
  28. 28. Small Business Administration•  http://dsbs.sba.gov/dsbs/search/ dsp_dsbs.cfm•  I searched for disadvantaged business enterprises in the 859 area code and found 888. (Can do a lot of other searches here.)•  PDR Properties in Lexington is owned by Elbert Ray. Founded in 1990 and does sewage treatment.
  29. 29. Small Business Administration•  K. Hayes Ltd.•  Company constructs commercial buildings, bridges and water-treatment facilities.•  Eight-year-old company owned by Kunte Hayes, a minority.•  Contacts listed for the company, including owner’s email.
  30. 30. Credit unions•  Many cities have dozens of credit unions. Yet many newspapers don’t write stories about them.•  Credit union financial information is available online from the National Credit Union Administration.•  http://www.ncua.gov/ Click on “Credit Union Data” on the left-hand menu to find specific information about any credit union.
  31. 31. Credit unions•  Greater Kentucky Credit Union has $62 million in assets. Has 10,000 members but lost $104,000 in the most recent quarter. Foreclosed on 15 properties during quarter, but of them were vehicles.•  University of Kentucky Credit Union has $422 million in assets. Foreclosed on no property during the most recent quarter and made a profit of $1.5 million.
  32. 32. Banks•  Regulated by state and federal agencies.•  Data on bank branches -- including private banks -- such as market share is available online.•  http://www.fdic.gov. Go here and click on “Bank Data” to get market share info.•  http://www3.fdic.gov/idasp//. Find any bank holding company or location insured by the FDIC. Search results will tell you the bank’s total deposits and assets, as well as financial performance.
  33. 33. Banks•  American Founders Bank in Lexington now has 102 employees, up from 95 in 2010.•  But assets have declined to $398 million (Sept. 30, 2011) from $405 million (Sept. 30, 2010).•  Loans past due have risen from $2.7 million to $3.3 million.•  Real estate owned by bank has increased to $13 million from $8 million.
  34. 34. Random websites
  35. 35. Political campaign contributions•  How much did Ashley Judd give to certain local political campaigns? http://www.followthemoney.org/•  What about federal campaigns? http://www.tray.com/pml/home.do•  The last database goes back to 1980. Can search company names as well.
  36. 36. Lobbying•  Does the company have lobbyists, and how much is it paying them? http://www.opensecrets.org/lobbyists/index.asp•  University of Kentucky’s lobbying spending has gone from $50,000 in 2005 to $349,000 in 2011.•  East Kentucky Power Cooperative has spent $80,000 on lobbying in four of the past five years.•  The Commonwealth of Kentucky spent $120,000 last year after spending nearly $400,000 in 2005.
  37. 37. Hospital financial information•  http://www.ahd.com/freesearch.php3•  Here’s the list of Lexington hospitals that it has financial information for: Cardinal Hill, Central Baptist, Continuing Care, Eastern State, St. Joseph, Ridge Behavioral, UK Good Samaritan and University of Kentucky.•  This is a subscriber site, but also offers free data.
  38. 38. Patents and Trademarks•  http://patents.uspto.gov/•  Type in a company’s name and see what it’s getting patents for.•  Churchill Downs has five trademarks. Trademark applications include names of attorneys representing the company and information about the trademark.•  Ashland Oil filed for patent on Jan. 10 claiming “A lubricant composition which comprises at least 50 wt % of a lubricating base oil and an oil-soluble metal compound providing between 1 and 1680 parts per million of metal to the lubricant composition.”
  39. 39. The EPA•  http://www.epa.gov -- Click on the docket to the left on the home page to see Federal Register notices, support documents and public comments for regulations the agency publishes and various non-regulatory activities.•  Also a nice search engine of environmental information available by ZIP Code, which lists EPA-regulated businesses.
  40. 40. Toxic Waste•  http://www.epa.gov/tri/ The Toxic Release Inventory is a database of information about releases and transfers of toxic chemicals from manufacturing plants.•  Facilities must report their releases of a toxic chemical if they fulfill four criteria. This can be searched by geographic regions as well as by facility, parent company and industry.
  41. 41. Activists•  http://activistcash.com/ -- Profiles anti- consumer activist groups, along with information about the sources of their exorbitant funding.•  Breaks them up among activist groups, foundations, celebrities and major individual players in the activist community.
  42. 42. Amusement parks•  http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/ amuse.pdf -- This file lists who regulates amusement park rides on a state-by-state basis.
  43. 43. EEOC•  http://www.eeoc.gov -- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigates charges against businesses for unfair employment practices or discrimination.•  “Litigation” section on the left side of the page has a link to a monthly report on all of the actions taken by the agency.
  44. 44. Consumer advocates•  http://www.nasuca.org -- National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, which represents the interest of consumers before state and federal agencies in 40 states and the District of Columbia.•  Nice list of its testimony and filings.
  45. 45. Consumer products•  http://www.planetfeedback.com/ -- Search for complaints of compliments about any product and any company at this site.•  If you’re writing about consumer products companies, the postings here might provide some story ideas.
  46. 46. One last thought•  Good business writers are hard to find.•  Make a name for yourself writing business stories, and your career will take off.•  A knowledge of how to write business stories about private companies can be applied to any beat at a newspaper or any publication.

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